Russia has long been considered one of the powerhouses in the sporting world. It turns out there is good reason for this. With a state powered, state run, state backed sports system in place, the rest of the world’s athletes may well have thought ‘if only our own government provided us with this level of support….’
But Russia has also has been stripped of 3 times as many Olympic medals as the 2nd country on the list – 31 in total. They lost 5 medals from the 2002 Winter Olympics, 11 from the 2008 Summer Olympics and 10 from the 2012 Summer Olympics. In each case, they were the leading country in terms of doping violations leading to medals being stripped.
You would think that this should have been enough to alert the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), that something was seriously amiss in the great state of Russia! Over the years they had also certainly received enough tip offs and petitions from various athletics bodies asking them to do something about the highly suspicious level of irregular and positive drug tests being returned by Russian athletes.
However, instead of acting they had adopted a ‘let’s let Russia clean up their own act’ approach. The problem with that approach though is that the institutions and officials within Russia who should have been working towards cleaning up their act were heavily involved in doing the exact opposite.
In fact, it took a German expose style television documentary on Russia’s state endorsed doping system that aired in 2014, using the exact same information that had been supplied to them back in 2010, for WADA to finally take action. They commissioned an independent investigation into claims made by the documentary and, not surprisingly, uncovered some dirty laundry. A LOT of dirty laundry in fact. Enough dirty laundry for them to suspend the Moscow lab at the centre of the allegations as well as Russia’s national anti-doping organization RUSADA. And hand out life bans to several key players in the system, including the IAAF’s former treasurer who had also been the President of All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) throughout much of the organised doping program.
Subsequent reports from the commission further substantiated and expanded upon the extent of the systematic doping happening in Russia, although investigators found it tough going head to head with a Russian political system on full defensive alert. Shades of the Cold War.
Then in May 2016 came former Moscow Anti-Doping Centre Director and current defector to the US Grigory Rodchenkov’s whistle blowing to the press about the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. When these allegations hit the media fan like the proverbial, WADA hired Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren to investigate the claims. And what he subsequently uncovered is simply mind-boggling.
Whilst WADA already knew about the state-led, state-supported, state-planned methodical system of doping that affected not just the Olympic sports but pretty much every sport in which Russia participates, and had guessed at what they hadn’t yet been able to uncover, the specifics that McLaren discovered were unprecedented.
Specifics about how tainted samples were replaced with clean samples, specifics about how supposedly tamper proof, self-sealing, specimen bottles were opened so their contents could be tampered with, details about designer cocktails of steroids that were intended to thwart detection thresholds, details about athletes paying officials to keep the lid on their positive test results and so on.
Whilst it was the Sochi Games that McLaren was hired to investigate in the wake of Rodchenkov’s claims, it didn’t take him long to figure out that most of what went on at those games had in fact been going on for a lot longer. And had affected not just the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Games but also the 2012 London Games.
The little scheme he called the disappearing positive methodology for example. The little scheme with the name that sounds like it belongs in a line from the script of Get Smart - “It’s the case of the ‘disappearing positive methodology’ Ninety-Nine.” A methodology that involved positive urine samples disappearing out of the lab via a concealed hole in the wall and being replaced with previously collected clean samples….
By Sochi the methodology had clearly been honed and refined until they had it down to a fine art, carried out with expert precision and leaving nothing to chance. McLaren estimated they’d been practicing this disappearing positive methodology in various guises since at least the end of 2011 and that some 643 positive samples (and counting) had miraculously become clean samples overnight.
When his first report was released in July 2016, it caused WADA to recommend that Russian athletes be prevented from competing at the 2016 Rio games, a recommendation the IOC chose not to act on. The Paralympics Committee however did vote to ban Russian athletes from their games.
McLaren was given permission to continue his investigations, with a focus more on the athletes involved. When he presented his findings on December 9th 2016, he’d discovered that from 2011 to 2015, at least a thousand Russian sports men and women have been involved in the doping cover-ups. That figure is probably much higher given the difficulties involved in getting access to anything Russian authorities don’t want to be accessed.
Not surprisingly, athletes and sports officials around the world are worried about the events that are still being hosted by Russia, despite WADA and IOC recommendations that they be moved. After all, if Russia can clean their own athlete’s samples, what’s to prevent them from dirtying those of the competition….